William Booth Finds His Destiny

IN A SENSE, The Salvation Army’s missionary outreach began in 1865. One evening William Booth left his West London lodgings and walked along Mile End Waste, a one-and-a-half-mile stretch of “shows, shooting-ranges, petty dealers, and quack-doctors.” Outside the “Blind Beggar” pub, he listened to some street evangelists; when they had finished, he was invited to speak and found it an invigorating challenge. At midnight, when he returned home, he told Catherine, “Darling, I have found my destiny!”

Capturing the spirit of that beginning is this poem by Salvationist author John Coutts* [* From Humanities (Robert Greene Publishing, 1 Cirrus Crescent, Gravesend, Kent KA12 4QS England). Used by permission.] . It describes an early open-air address by Booth and his assistant, George Scott Railton.

When William came at last to Mile End Waste 
He saw the grey world sliding to and fro 
Like aimless rubbish on the indifferent tide: 
And then there came the dry and evil chuckle 
That once beset the Son of Man Himself. 
“Don’t waste your time: no Saviour died for them— 
Bundles of rags redeemed in precious gin: 
My flock, you know: poor devils damned already!” 

Sick with despair he tossed his mane and cried 
“Give us a song.” So Railton thundered forth 
“Jesus, the name high over all . . . ” 

. . . and suddenly 

The two were bobbing in the uproarious mob 
Of drunks and drabs and roughs and hags and demons 
Swarmed from the lurid gaslit hells around. 
“Hurrah” roared William: as the battle brewed 
He saw Christ’s blood-bright as a royal banner 
Flaunted before King Satan and his hosts. 

Loudly he roared against the assembled fiends 
That gripped each pauper by the throat, and perched 
On twisted shoulders wrapped in dirty shawls. 
“ . . . Angels and men before him fall . . . Now grandma, 
Tell ’em you’re saved!—and devils fear and fly . . . 
Come to the tent at seven. It’s warm inside!” 

Then thudding raindrops washed the crowd away, 
And William, plodding through the sodden slum 
Saw Christ’s compassion streaming in the gutters, 
And dirty cobbles drenched in Holy Ghost. 

—John Coutts

By the Editors

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #26 in 1990]

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